Tony hadn't stopped pacing since Hermione had woken up that morning and walked into the lounge to fix her morning tea. She suspected he'd never gone to sleep the night before. Hermione watched, bemused, as Tony continually muttered to himself.
"Hey Pep! We're the dream team…no that's bad. Pepper, we've proven that I can't survive without you. I mean you're the better half of my arch reactor…Christ that's worse."
The witch remained silent as she sipped her tea, allowing Tony to muddle through an astronomical amount of possible proposal ideas. Despite his obvious nerves, Hermione was confident Tony would successfully pull it together at the last minute like he always did. She waved at Pepper when the redhead entered the lounge and set her bag down.
"Alright, I'm here. What's the emergency?" Pepper asked, a teasing smirk on her face. At least it was until Tony opened his mouth.
"Marriage!" Tony blurted out, causing Hermione to spit her tea out, while Pepper turned to stare at her boyfriend.
"Honestly," Hermione muttered as she cleaned up the mess, discreetly vanishing the liquid behind Pepper's back.
"Tony, the media just accused you of marrying your sister. It wasn't fun to clean up and I am not repeating it," Pepper said, still remaining calm in the face of Tony's antics. Hermione grinned when she realized Pepper was trying to manage Tony and assumed he was in one of his "moods."
"What? No! I mean me and you. Us," Tony babbled, rapidly gesturing between the two of them. Ignoring him, Pepper turned to look at Hermione.
"Is he having a stroke?"
"It'd certainly be less painful to watch if he were," Hermione answered, before looking over at Tony. "I told you not to wing this. Did you at least remember to get the ring from Happy?"
Tony glared at Hermione, "I knew I shouldn't have let you stay for this."
"Jarvis, what is going on?" Pepper asked, sighing as Tony and Hermione dissolved into bickering.
"Mr. Stark is attempting to propose marriage to you, albeit it appears to be going rather poorly," Jarvis promptly answered. "I believe it is integral to Project Munchkinland."
Pepper pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath, "Dare I ask what about Project Munchkinland?"
"My apologies Miss Potts, those file require either Mr. Stark or Miss Stark's authorization to access them. I have taken the liberty of sending you the financial details of the London Renovation to your tablet," Jarvis said. Recognizing that Jarvis was attempting to exploit a loophole, Pepper ignored the squabbling siblings and retrieved her tablet. After reading through all of the documents, Pepper gave a sharp whistle.
"Alright that's enough! Both of you sit down," Pepper said pointing at the table and ignoring the raised eyebrow from Hermione who hadn't gotten up from her seat.
"Now then, explain why the London office renovation is entirely off the rails financially and how it's connected to Tony clearly losing his mind," Pepper said, once Tony had begrudgingly taken a seat.
"I am not losing my mind!"
"You break out into hives at the word marriage and now you're suggesting it," Pepper pointed out as Hermione snickered at Tony's petulant glare.
"Tony and I have been working on a rather extensive side project," Hermione explained, causing Pepper's eyes to narrow in her direction.
"How extensive?" Pepper asked, immediately noting when Hermione and Tony exchanged a glance before either answered.
"Same scope as creating an SI division the size of the current company," Hermione answered, as Pepper groaned. "The majority of funds are for payroll, research and development, etc."
"The board will be furious that you've lied about this," Pepper said. "Exactly what will this new division do?"
"Legally, we can't tell you," Hermione said with a slight wince as Pepper frowned. "Not without certain prerequisites being met. In fact I can't even tell you what they are technically speaking."
"So essentially I have to sign a non-disclosure agreement," Pepper concluded, looking over when Tony had an odd look on his face.
"It's a bit more binding than an NDA Pep," Tony said, as Hermione slid a marriage license across the table to her. "We need you to know so you can handle the board. This is projected to double our profits and we will already be targeted by competitors just for entering the market. We can't afford not to follow the rules here."
Pepper stared at her boyfriend, who hated following rules.
"Tony, you're suggesting a marriage of convenience, which is weird enough, but we're dating! How will this not get insanely complicated?" Pepper asked, logic prevailing in the midst of absurdity.
"We don't plan on announcing it publicly for some time," Tony said, his voice hesitant as he stared at his girlfriend. "So essentially, the only people who would know would be the three of us and Kingsley."
"The officiant," Hermione supplied.
"What happens if it doesn't work out?" Pepper asked. "If Tony finally gets bored? What if he dies?"
"It would depend on the circumstances," Hermione answered, forcing herself to ignore the queasy feeling of imagining Tony dead. "For example, if you and Tony had children who met certain criteria, death or divorce wouldn't affect it at all."
"Criteria that you can't disclose unless Tony and I are married?" Pepper asked, earning a nod from Hermione. "This isn't illegal is it? You're not part of the mob are you?"
"Yes. All legal, although we've been skirting the law by giving you this much information," Tony said as Hermione confirmed that no, she wasn't in the mob.
"Alright, exactly when did you want to do this?" Pepper asked, as Tony handed her a pen and Hermione bolted from the room. "Of course you'd want to do it now."
Within minutes, Hermione returned with the most peculiarly dressed man, "Pepper, I'd like you to meet my good friend Kingsley Shacklebolt."
"Hello," Pepper said, standing to greet the man.
"Lovely to meet you Miss Potts! Congratulations as well," Kingsley said, his voice booming with happiness. "Hermione tells me you and Tony are in the family way. It's always a blessing to start a family."
Pepper looked at Hermione who shrugged unapologetically.
"Yes, and we are quite excited to get married," Pepper said diplomatically. "Thank you for agreeing to join us."
"Of course!" Kingsley said, clapping his hands together. "Hermione's an old comrade in arms. I'm delighted to be of service."
Pepper smiled, while silently adding that admission to the list of questions for her future sister-in-law. The ceremony itself was quick and before Pepper knew it, Kingsley had left after promising to file his copy of the marriage license post haste. The door had barely shut when she turned to Tony and Hermione.
"Tell me everything," Pepper demanded, surprised when her new husband looked at Hermione.
"It started when I turned eleven years old," Hermione answered, a fond smile on her lips. Pepper stared at her sister-in-law as the younger woman told a story of magic and wonders. Even seeing her perform magic was accepted wide-eyed.
Once Pepper had been caught up on the existence of magic and the current deficiencies of the British Enclave, Tony took over explaining their plans for Stark Industries.
"So essentially you're creating a second company and expect to piss off a lot of wizards," Pepper concluded, earning a nod from Hermione. "Well you were right. I definitely would have demanded an explanation for these numbers. I take it you've contracted an accountant who is magical to help us with the magical government?"
"MACUSA," Hermione said, handing over a list to Pepper. "These are the options Tony and Maria put together. I suggest setting up interviews with each one."
"Pepper nodded, and asked Jarivs to set a scheduling reminder, while scribbling notes on each of the applications as she reviewed them.
"When will we be prepared to go public in your world with the company?" Pepper asked, before adding, "We'll need a media liaison for this part. I think you were smart to visualize this as a separate entity, but that also means we'll need to fill the same positions with counterparts aware of the magical world."
Hermione froze, earning a concerned look from Pepper.
"What is it?"
"We can hire squibs and muggle family members of magical citizens," Hermione said, diving for the nearest legal pad and pen. "Not only would that help us with the muggle innovations, but it would help integrate those families better."
"Uh…squib?" Tony asked.
"Reverse muggleborn," Hermione answered, as Tony muttered the definition of a muggleborn into his wife's ear. "Most pureblood families get rid of them."
"They kill their own children?!" Pepper shrieked, her anger exploding into her voice. Without hesitating, the Stark CEO was demanding Jarvis research the details of running a children's program, including relocation, fostering, and scholarships.
"More extreme families have been known to do so," Hermione admitted, as her new sister-in-law glared daggers at the table. "Most tend to just hide the child in the muggle world and cut off contact. We could more easily hire squibs, but if we hire muggle family members, we'll be heavily scrutinized under the Statute of Secrecy. The latter might have to wait until we're fully established and not dealing with legal suits at every turn from the established pureblood families."
"We will definitely need a media liaison. Particularly one with a spine and who is widely known by the population," Pepper pointed out, earning a scowl from Hermione when she saw Tony grinning at her. Pepper glanced between the siblings, curious about their reactions.
"Would Skeeter do it?" Tony asked, answering Pepper's silent question. She recalled Hermione's explanation of her fourth year of school and the role that reporter played.
"If you paid her enough," Hermione answered, her reluctance leaking into her voice. "Our best bet would be to have the offer come from you AND we make her sign a magically binding NDA. That way she can't turn around and share company secrets. I'll write one up. You two figure out a reasonable salary that no one could top. I have no doubt that Malfoy Industries would try to lure her away with more money."
"So we use her to publish positive news articles," Pepper said. "That way we can at least attempt to sway the public when our competitors attempt to usurp us and circumvent the laws. We'll also need a government liaison. One for MACUSA and Britain. Would Ms. Skeeter be able to cover both countries for media relations?"
"Yes," Hermione said. "She'll need a photographer, and if she thinks it's necessary we can arrange an assistant experienced with MACUSA. How soon do you think we should bring her on board?"
"As quickly as possible. She can start with pieces in the paper about the lack of opportunities for the groups we're targeting for employment," Pepper answered, just as Jarvis spoke.
"Miss Stark, your appointment with Director Fury requires you to leave now if you wish to arrive on time."
"Of course," Hermione acknowledged, gathering her things and heading towards the door. "Have fun you two!"
Bringing Pepper into the company had already proven lucrative. She was adept at finding flaws in the plan Tony and Hermione had created, while also suggesting workable solutions. Slipping into the crowd once she left Stark Tower, Hermione headed towards the nearest subway entrance. She was mentally relisting every detail that Pepper had brought up when her magic sizzled down her spine.
Two men were tailing her, while continuously either touching their ears or inkling their heads as if they were listening to someone talk.
Hermione had seen Romanov and Barton use them often enough to recognize the behavior on sight.
Despite her breathing becoming sporadic, Hermione forced herself to remain calm and centered amongst the crowd of New Yorkers. Reaching the first step of the subway entrance, Hermione began weaving in and out of the crowd, while pulling her mobile out.
Hitting speed dial two, she rapidly spoke, "Fury! I'm being follo-."
The phone was knocked from her hand as a body slammed her face first into a wall.
"Hermione Stark! You are under arrest for espionage and violating both U.S Sovereignty and National Security," a male voice said, wrenching her arms behind her back and cuffing them. Focusing on her mental shields, Hermione gritted her teeth while parsing out who was accosting her.
It wasn't MACUSA. They'd never risk a public confrontation in a muggle area. Not to mention she hadn't been magically searched for a wand, merely frisked for muggle weapons. The man forcibly turned her around and shoved her against the wall, allowing her to see ten agents pointing guns directly at her.
"Bollocks," Hermione muttered under her breath.